(CMR) Cabinet has approved for Emancipation Day to be formally recognized and reinstated as a public holiday in May 2024.
Emancipation Day was previously observed in the Cayman Islands before being replaced with the Constitution Day holiday by the Legislative Assembly in the 1960’s. The reinstatement of this day as a national day of observance is the year-long culmination of research and examination of a number of concerns related to Cayman’s cultural heritage.
In late 2022, the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Culture and Heritage established Task Forces to facilitate discussions, collect data, research, and examine existing policies to address these concerns. This includes slavery, emancipation, and cultural identity. In September 2023, the Ministry presented its findings and submitted two Cabinet Papers (Cultural Identity and Emancipation Day), highlighting the pressing need to preserve the traditions of the Cayman Islands and restore a missing piece of our history.
With Cabinet’s approval, this reinstated holiday will now be commemorated on the first Monday in May and will replace the Discovery Day public holiday beginning in 2024. The decision to celebrate this holiday in May is in recognition of Cayman’s unique history with emancipation.
Records of the Cayman Islands and accounts of the vibrant and celebrated occasion, especially in Bodden Town, the first political capital of the Cayman Islands, clearly indicate the commemorations of Emancipation Day on 5th May 1835, when Captain Anthony Pack, 84th Regiment of Foot and Colonel in Chief of the Militia of the Cayman Islands, read a Proclamation to the assembled inhabitants of Bodden Town, both black and white.
Cabinet has also approved the commencement of a public survey to formalize additional National Symbols. As a still relatively young and evolving country, these initiatives are vital in establishing our cultural identity and building cultural awareness. Following the recognition of the National flag and the Coat of Arms in the 1950s, the government is pleased that the National Song, Beloved Isles Cayman, the Silver Thatch, the Cayman Parrot, and the Banana Orchid became National Symbols in the 1990s.
The steps now being taken are to select and formally recognize the following additional National Symbols:
· Cayman Islands National Dish;
· Cayman Islands National Drink;
· Cayman Islands National Dessert;
· Cayman Islands National Dress; and
· Cayman Islands National Dance.
The Hon. Minister for Youth, Sports, Culture and Heritage, Bernie Bush, expressed his thanks and commitment to preserving our cultural heritage to all the stakeholders involved in these initiatives.
He remarked, “Emancipation Day's recognition and reinstatement mark a significant step towards honoring our unique history and cultural heritage. This decision not only pays tribute to our ancestors' struggles and triumphs but also invites our community to connect with the profound roots of our cultural identity. It is an opportunity to learn, remember, and celebrate our remarkable journey. The initiation of a public survey to formalize additional national symbols to ensure these traditions and customs remain for future generations is also key to building cultural identity and national pride.”
The Ministry and key stakeholders will continue to bring awareness of Cayman’s unique history and traditions, including that of slavery and emancipation, as part of our ongoing efforts of “Awareness and Preservation of Culture and Heritage,” a key priority and critical element of the Ministry.
As a result, there is now the reformation of events to better align Cayman’s cultural activities and celebrations with traditions and customs of our past, alongside appreciating our development as a country. These changes will include but are not limited to, our District Heritage Days, which are currently aligned to Pirates Fest, street fetes, and other celebrations, and the development of culturally related programs and policies for our young people and the broader community.
Emancipation Day Background
With the official announcement of the Apprenticeship coming to an end in the Cayman Islands just after 3:00 pm on 3rd May 1835 and the first commemoration of the Day on 5th May 1835, the reinstatement of Emancipation Day on this date would provide a significant tie to our history and provide context to our commemorations and a direct link to our ancestors and the values which they epitomized. It is also critical to note that records indicate that the Cayman Islands end of Apprenticeship occurred a full three years before the system of Apprenticeship was ended across many other British Caribbean territories.
Historical records and theoretical papers from Caymanian cultural stewards show that Emancipation Day was celebrated well into the 20th century and boasted vibrant celebrations in Cayman’s first capital, Bodden Town. The reinstatement of Emancipation Day is an opportunity for the community to learn and connect with aspects of Cayman’s history that are currently missing.
Considering the historical context references to slavery and Emancipation Day in the Cayman Islands, alongside the theoretical framework and findings, the removal of Emancipation Day suggests the re-scripting of Cayman’s history, false claims of no slavery and erases a significant part of our cultural heritage.
The public is invited to engage and participate in the upcoming campaigns by visiting www.gov.ky/ysch, following on Instagram @mysch_cayman on Instagram, Ministry of Youth, Sports, Culture and Heritage on Facebook, and attending upcoming events.